Commenting after the Met Office raised the possibility of more wash-out summers, James Walton, IGD chief economist, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “If we do have a decade of summers with less predictable weather, shoppers will be more excited when it is sunny, creating the need for more flexible and responsive supply chains to get the right products in stores at the right time.”
Wetter summers would also hit the tourist industry, as they would make Britain became less attractive to overseas visitors and British people escape to sunnier climes, he added. This would have a measurable impact on food and drink sales.
Walton underlined the close connection between retail activity and the weather: the more sun there was, the higher total food and grocery sales tended to be.
‘When it’s sunnier’
“Whether people drink a little more when it’s sunnier, or are more likely to go shopping and spend more or splash out because they’ve invited people round more often, it all adds up to higher spending.”
Weather also influenced the types of food consumers buy. Demand for cold drinks, barbecue meats and salads surges in hot weather, while cold weather boosts sales of soups and stews.
A range of food and drink manufacturers from Unilever to Bakkavör and Britvic have the weather to blame for denting sales.
Last year, Mash Direct’s general manager Neil Houghton told our sister title Food Manufacture that the firm’s business can be up by as much as 20% during a cold and rainy spell compared with hot weather.
Although the weather had an important influence on sales, it was just one of a wide range of factors that influenced grocery shopping habits.
“While over a decade, weather change could impact on spending patterns, it may be less marked than the effect of changes in fashion, lifestyles, prosperity, etc,” said Walton.
Six out of the past seven UK summers – with the exception of 2010 – recorded above average rainfall.
Last week's Met Office summit suggested that the pattern could be repeated over the next 10 years.
Stephen Belcher, head of the Met Office Hadley Centre in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: “There are hints that in five to 10 years it [the chance of wetter summers] could end.”
The meeting heard that shifting weather patterns might be influenced by climate change.
“Ultimately, what we’ve seen in each of these seasons is shifts in the position of the jet stream, which impacts our weather in certain ways at different times of the year,” said Belcher.
“The key question is what is causing the jet stream to shift in this way? There is some research to say some parts of the natural system load the dice to influence certain states of the jet stream, but this loading may be further amplified by climate change.”
Possible factors included: melting Arctic sea ice, solar variability, long-term ocean cycles, and other long-term weather cycles.
Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union has warned that the UK’s wheat crop could be 30% smaller than last year due to adverse weather.
Also Owen Paterson, environment secretary, said last week in a keynote speech genetically modified crops could “combat the damaging effects of unpredictable weather and disease on crops”.